Backstage

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Lyric Opera of Chicago
Written By Lyric Opera of Chicago

Grand spectacle. The finest singers of our time. And immortal music performed by our internationally celebrated orchestra and chorus. #LongLivePassion

Wardrobe

Everyone onstage wears a costume: the stars, the chorus, the supers, even stagehands and orchestra members if they appear onstage. With opera casts ranging from one to several hundred, the wardrobe department is one of the busiest areas during the season. When an existing production is brought in from another opera company, alterations need to be made to fit the principal artists and chorus. Sometimes new copies of costumes have to be made to achieve the perfect fit. If there are not enough costumes for chorus or supers, costumes may be borrowed from Lyric’s permanent collection.

Before performances, the Wardrobe Department makes sure the right costumes are in the right dressing rooms and that no parts are missing or damaged. After a performance, dressers collect all the costumes and inspect, repair, and clean them as necessary. The Wardrobe Department consists of 3 full-time staff, 10 stitchers, and 13 dressers.

Wigs & Makeup

Many productions call for multiple hairstyles throughout the opera, making wigs the easiest way to quickly transform a look. Every wig seen on stage is hand made for that particular artist. Individual hairs are sewn into lace-front wigs. The process takes between 40-60 hours. Wigs are almost always made of real, human hair as it is able to be washed and styled between performances. Occasionally, brightly colored wigs will be constructed from synthetic hair. Facial hair (beards, mustaches, eyebrows, and sideburns) are made with textured hair or yak hair.

Normally, principal singers have a dedicated makeup artist and dresser who will assist them into their costumes, wigs, and apply makeup (including latex prosthetics, body paint, and special effects blood) for every performance. Lyric’s Wigs and Makeup Department is made up of 7 staff and 10 crew members.

Scenery

Scenery needs to be loaded in, put together, taken down (“struck”), repaired, repainted, moved around, and loaded out again. Scenery can be stored backstage, under the stage, suspended above the stage, or off site. During a show, scenery may be moved in and out from behind the stage, from the sides (the “wings”), from below on elevators (“traps”), or from cables above (“flies”). Scenery is constructed from a variety of materials, including wood, metal, plastic, and cloth.

Lyric employs about 50 people to work on the stage. They’re called the “crew” or “stagehands.” The crew is divided into three general disciplines:

Carpenters who build, strike, alter, and repair scenery. Electricians who take care of electronics, sound, projection, special effects (like rain and fog), and lighting onstage and front of house. Props people who find, build, and take care of all the smaller pieces of scenery.

Props

The team in charge of props find, build, and take care of all the smaller pieces of scenery like furniture, décor, household objects, and food. Long before a production reaches the stage, design meetings take place between the opera’s creative team and Lyric’s Technical and Artistic Departments. The designer provides drawings or models and the director gives instructions for what they want. The props master and his crew then have to figure out how to make their wishes come true. Some props can be bought ready for the stage: Reel Blood, fake food, electronic torches, etc. but most props must be created from scratch by Lyric’s resourceful and highly-skilled props people.

Rehearsal Spaces

When Lyric Opera purchased the Civic Opera House in 1993, the smaller Civic Theatre was removed to create necessary rehearsal spaces. In addition to the rehearsal offices, dressing rooms, and individual practice rooms, Lyric has three large rehearsal rooms. The Mason Rehearsal Room (Room 200) is the same size as the main stage and can hold full sets--or replicas--delivered by a large elevator that can lift a full semi-truck trailer.

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Backstage

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